Sunday, November 28, 2010

The Pale Of Settlement by Margot Singer (GRADE: A)

I just finished The Pale Of Settlement by Margot Singer.  The Pale of Settlement was the 2006 winner of the Flannery O'Connor Award for Short Fiction, a very prestigious award.  I grade this collection of short stories an A.

The Pale of Settlement is a collection of 9 short stories about a family of Jewish people, some American Jews and some Israeli Jews.  The stories can be read independently but in another way, all the stories are like puzzle pieces that make up a whole picture of this family.  In this way, it reminded me of the Joy Luck Club (which I also liked very much, see previous entry).

The writing is probably some of the best I've ever read.  In fact, at times, I felt really stupid reading this book.  Frequently, as I read the book, I would get the feeling that I was reading something symbolic or that the story itself is a metaphor or that there are mirrors and juxtapositions but I couldn't wrap my non-literature mind around it.  The writing was a mix between poetry and prose; it was truly beautiful.

As a Korean-American, I could very much relate to the feeling of displacement that Susan, one of the characters in the family in the Pale of Settlement, felt; she neither felt fully American nor fully Jewish.  She was both and neither at the same time and in the same way.  A contradiction.  But a contradiction that every foreign born american feels (I'm guessing).

The stories were very much character driven.  At times, plot helps in driving the story but this collection of short stories was more about diving deep into the characters and not so much about defeating an enemy or overcoming an obstacle.  The resolutions were subtle as was pretty much everything in this book.

Overall, this book was great!  At times it was a little difficult to read--she doesn't stick with conventional prose writing but I assure you, that it is worth the time and effort.  I grade this an A.  It would have been an A+ if I were smarter but I felt like I missed a lot of the things the author tried to do.  At the end of this book, I was very tempted to flip the book around and begin reading it again.  Good times.

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